Tropical Carrot Cake with Coconut Cream Cheese Frosting

Monday, March 19, 2012

tropical carrot cake

In my house, carrot cake and I have a very notorious love/hate relationship and it’s exactly this love/hate relationship that made me choose this recipe for Project Pastry Queen this week.  Love because while I certainly enjoy carrot cake’s spicy, moistness, The Boyfriend LOVES carrot cake and things are always more fun to make when you know the person receiving it is going to love it.  Hate because I have never found a carrot cake that works out according to the recipe.  Long story short: no matter what carrot cake recipe I try (even Cooks Illustrated’s recipe!), the bake time for me is always almost double what the instructions call for.  Pastry Queen’s recipe is no different.  (I might add that this phenomenon only happens to me with carrot cake–my oven bakes everything else exactly according to the instructions!)  I let the carrot cake bake longer than the suggested time, took it out to cool when I thought it was done and cut into it, found it was still cake batter in the middle, and had to put it back in the oven.  I thought I had ruined the cake and went to bed very angry that night, but woke up the next morning, tasted the cake, and to my delight (maybe just relief) realized that it turned out just fine.

That all said, this is one outstanding cake.  Truly it is!  Instead of just a spice cake with flecks of orange in it, this is a cake packed with ingredients–pineapple, coconut flakes and macadamia nuts make this one incredible cake with a very tropical flair.  There’s even cream of coconut in the frosting.  Despite baking for so long, the cake didn’t dry out at all.  And to amp it up just a little more, I added some toasted shaved coconut to the top of the cake as well.  I think that, now that I’ve figured out to just leave the cake in the oven for as long as humanely possible, I’ve finally found a carrot cake recipe that I can stand behind!  Check out the other PPQer’s takes on the recipe here.

Notes: The cake above is a half recipe, baked in two 6″ cake pans, but was frosted with a full recipe of frosting.  If you make a full recipe of cake (which, in true Pastry Queen style, makes a BIG cake), I suggest doubling your frosting recipe.  I found the shaved coconut at my local co-op: they were selling a small package of it on the shelf next to the other coconut products for $3.95, but I found shaved coconut in their bulk aisle and filled a giant bag, twice as much as I needed, for 60 cents.  I’ve learned my lesson in creative shopping and deal hunting!

Tropical Carrot Cake with Coconut Cream Cheese Frosting
Adapted from The Pastry Queen by Rebecca Rather

Carrot Cake

  • 1 cup macadamia nuts
  • 3 cups flour
  • 3 cups sugar
  • 1 tablespoon baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 tablespoon cinnamon (I doubled this in my recipe)
  • 1/2 teaspoon nutmeg (I doubled this in my recipe)
  • 1 1/2 cups sweetened shredded coconut
  • 4 large eggs
  • 2 tablespoons vanilla
  • 1 1/2 cups canola oil
  • 1 1/2 cups shredded carrots (Pre-shredded carrots from Trader Joes are a time saver!)
  • 1 1/2 cups canned pineapple pieces (I roughly chopped them into smaller bits)
  • 1/2 cup sweetened cream of coconut, such as Coco Lopez (found in the alcohol section as a drink mix-in at my grocery store)

Coconut-Cream Cheese Frosting

  • 3 packages (8 oz) cream cheese, room temperature
  • 1 1/2 cups powdered sugar
  • 1/4 cup heavy whipping cream
  • 1/4 cup sweetened cream of coconut, such as Coco Lopez
  • 1/2 teaspoon of salt


  1. Heat the oven to 350 degrees.  Spread the macadamia nuts in a single layer on a baking sheet and toast them in the oven for 7 to 9 minutes.  Leave the oven on.
  2. Evenly space your oven racks so that one is 1/3 from the bottom of the oven and the other is 1/3 up from that.
  3. Line three 9″ cake pans with circles of parchment paper  and spray with non-stick baking spray.
  4. In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, sugar, baking soda, salt, cinnamon, nutmeg, coconut and macadamia nuts.
  5. In another large bowl, whisk together the eggs, vanilla, oil, carrots, pineapple and cream of coconut.
  6. Add the wet ingredients to the dry and mix until thoroughly combined.
  7. Evenly divide the batter amongst the three cake prepared cake pans and arrange the pans in the oven so that two pans are on one rack, the third is on the other rack, and that none of the pans are directly above or below the others.
  8. Bake for 30-35 minutes (or, in my case, closer to an hour–put some tin foil over the top if it starts to darken too much, but before taking it out, make sure that the center is fully set and that a cake tester comes out clean and not sticky whatsoever.)
  9. Cool the cakes on a wire rack for 5 minutes still in their pans, then invert them and cool completely before frosting them.
  10. Beat the cream cheese and powdered sugar together in a large bowl until combined and creamy.  Add the whipping cream, cream of coconut, and salt and beat until combined and smooth.
  11. Frost the cakes according to your desire– the cake layers did sink just a little bit so I added a bit of extra frosting to make them sit evenly on each other.
  12. To make the toasted shaved coconut, set your oven on broil, spread 1-2 cups of the coconut in a single layer on a baking sheet and toast for 2 minutes, stir the coconut so that it is redistributed for even browning, and toast for another 2 minutes until golden brown.  Let cool before sprinkling it over the top of the cake.  Enjoy!

Rebecca notes: “The cake can be covered with plastic wrap and refrigerated up to 4 days.  Let it cool in the refrigerator about 1 hour before covering to ensure the frosting has hardened and will not stick to the plastic wrap”.  I can add that I hate hate hate cake in the fridge because it dries out and doesn’t taste as good, but this cake is so moist and flavorful that it was great straight from the fridge even.  If serving a whole cake to friends, though, I’d let it warm up 30 minutes or so before serving.


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